UN moves to close net on Unita leader

Originally published
Johannesburg, South Africa. March 14 2000

Rebel leader Jonas Savimbi could face a US indictment for murder, as the United Nations moves to get him out of the Angolan picture.


Jonas Savimbi, the leader of Angola's Unita rebel movement, could be indicted for murder in the United States - the country that for nearly two decades of the cold war was his unconditional backer.

The proposal by the United Nations sanctions committee is to be discussed by the security council tomorrow. Another recommendation is for an arrest warrant for his right-hand man and chief diamonds-for-arms trafficker, Moses Dachala, to be enforced by Interpol.

The UN report contains 39 proposals which would effectively take Mr Savimbi out of the Angolan picture that he has dominated for so long.

It names two African presidents - of Togo and Burkina Faso - as personally benefiting from presents of illegal diamonds from Unita, and is a major step forward by the UN in its attempt to extend international responsibility for ending the war.

Both presidents deny breaking UN sanctions. The UN imposed arms and fuel sanctions on Unita in 1993 when the rebels returned to war after losing the general election. In 1998 sanctions were extended to include diamond trading, which was Unita's only source of funding for its war.

The conflict worsened and the UN itself became a target, with its workers killed, its trucks ambushed and its planes shot down. The UN sanctions committee's lawyers have suggested that the indictment of Mr Savimbi in the US for murder could be based on evidence from senior Unita defectors, who have said UN planes were shot down on the orders of Mr Savimbi. One of the UN staff killed in these crashes was an American.

The UN report brings the European Union and Nato into the equation by proposing that they require would-be members to comply with the arms embargo on Unita. Bulgaria, which wants to join the EU, has been the conduit for east European armaments sold to the rebels in exchange for diamonds.

Other measures include a blacklist in the diamond industry in Belgium for those known to be trading in Unita diamonds, DNA testing on any captured Unita fuel to show where it originated, and loss of some diplomatic privileges for countries which allow Unita to use their passports.

A three-year arms embargo is being proposed on the west African state of Togo, which has allowed Unita to use its end-user certificates for arms buying, while a recommendation that no meetings or conferences should be held in countries involved in sanctions breaking will rule out Togo from taking over the chair of the Organisation of African Unity in July.

Mr Savimbi's children have been hosted in Togo by President Gnassingbe Eyadema for several years, after the Unita leader lost his key support bases in Africa with the deaths of presidents Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast and Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire. The relationship is purely a business one, according to former Unita officials who testified to the UN committee.

"Savimbi used to say that Eyadema was only interested in money - worse than Mobutu," said one official.

President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, a relative by marriage of Houphouet-Boigny, is revealed in the report as Mr Savimbi's closest remaining friend. Mr Savimbi has for years funded Mr Compaore's political campaigns at home and abroad, in Liberia in particular.

Last year, when Unita had a fuel crisis, Mr Compaore sent three planeloads of fuel to the rebels. "It was an absolutely clear breach of UN sanctions," said one UN official.

Mr Dachala has frequently visited Burkina Faso with diamonds and often met diamond and arms dealers there, according to the UN. "This is a man who Savimbi trusts with $100m of diamonds in a briefcase," said one UN official. "The threat of Interpol removing him from the scene would be serious for Savimbi."

An early version of the sanctions committee's report leaked at the weekend named President Omar Bongo of Gabon and Vice-President Paul Kagame of Rwanda as implicated in illegal traffic with Unita, but the two names have been withdrawn from the final report. "The first-hand evidence wasn't there," said a source in the committee. A statement from Kigali, the Rwandan capital, "categorically denied" the allegations.

Individuals from South Africa, Zambia, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo and Namibia are linked to arms procurement or diamond smuggling by Unita. In one case a high official is involved, but has not been named. South Africa has promised to take a tough line with any of its citizens who are named in the report.

A panel of experts has worked for six months to produce the sanctions committee's report, which is extremely detailed.

After six years, during which the committee did very little and the sanctions were ineffective enough for the rebel movement to rearm and resupply heavily for a major offensive, the committee's work was given fresh impetus by the appointment of the Canadian ambassador, Robert Fowler, as its chairman last year.

After the report has been debated in the security council this week, there will be a full UN debate on it next month, and a resolution on the action to be taken by member states.

-- The Guardian, March 14 2000.